Anything Fly Fishing

Rainbow Trout in Blackfeet Country

8 Mins read

It is dark and cold. Ricky slides from under the covers, into Phil’s guest bath to clean-up, then wanders into the cabin’s living space. The dress will be longs and longs, heavy sweater and waterproof jacket, waders, and boots.

Phil is awake. The lights are on. The cast iron stove is crackling with burning larch wood and dried, leftover paper. The blender is filled with plain yogurt, chia seeds and chopped bananas. Phil does not believe in old wives’ tales. Catching trout relies upon good form; nothing else.

Jerry and Zack

Jerry and Zack meander in from their sleeping bags. Together Ricky, Phil, Jerry and Zack prepare for the day. Load the truck with inflated float tubes and rubber flippers; assemble the five-weight rods; load the line; tie on the flies; arrange and store the kit; fill the cooler with roast beef sandwiches, popcorn and pretzels, bottled water, and Kokanee beer; feed the dogs, Hodie and Lola; make sure their Reservation licenses are current.

Phil and Ricky

Heart Butte Cut-Off lies shy of the East Glacier entrance to the wilderness of Glacier National Park. The road is a spur off U.S. Highway 2, located on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. It is unpaved and checkered with potholes. Encompassing about one million acres, the Indian reservation is larger than the state of Delaware. The terrain consists of windswept prairies interrupted by rivers and streams, dotted by numerous ponds and lakes, accented by the eastern Rocky Mountains, and punctuated by the Two Medicine River Valley. Along the road are Airstreams and motor homes, cottages and cabins, rentals, and residences. The lakes and the ponds and the streams and the rivers differ in size, depth, and water flow. Variations drive the seasons. The winds and the rains arrive from all directions; with ever changing velocities. The warm and dry “Snow Eaters” (Chinooks) blow from the Pacific Northwest. These winds can cause temperatures to fluctuate by 40°; very warm and very cold days can occur within hours of each other. Ultimately, which lake to trout fish depends on nature’s forces as well as the intricacies of navigating the access roads and paths.

Breakfast is inhaled. Phil pours smoothies into large glasses. Jerry heats water for breakfast tea and coffee. There are pancakes and Vermont syrup and crispy bacon. A discussion ensues regarding where to trout fish. Phil consults his computer. The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Game report, (http://fwp.mt.gov) and the Blackfeet Nation Fish and Wildlife report, (http://blackfeetfishandwildlife.net/fishing-report/) provide the latest information. Although the dogs are hassled by the voting, the group opts for Kipp Lake.

The drive takes forty minutes. Leaving Heart Butte Cut-Off, Phil turns the truck onto U.S. Highway 2 towards the town of Browning, passing The Blackfeet Nation Sculpture, and the “Welcome to the Blackfeet Nation” signage.

The Blackfeet Nation Sculpture

Further along, adhering to the Aquatic Invasive Species Act (Ordinance 113A), Ricky and his friends stop at the mandatory watercraft inspection station to certify that their gear is not harboring Zebra mussels or other nefarious contaminants.

Aquatic Invasive Species Act – Ordinance 113A

Passing through Browning and heading east down U.S. Highway 89, Ricky and his friends bear left at the fork and continue east on U.S. Highway 2. They pass Whitford Road; traverse the Willow Creek overpass; turn right past the town of Blackfoot sign; enter the Reservation through Bad Eyes; travel on toward Kipp Lake Road.

The path to the north shore of Kipp Lake is crappy; hard, rocky, and peppered with ruts. The truck lumbers along. Ricky and his friends cross Willow Creek and stop at the iron grates designed to prevent the cattle and the bison and the wild horses from migrating far afield.

Bison

Wild Horses

At the wood and barbed wire fencing, the gate is unfastened. Held in place using 4-point, 15½ gauge, high-tensile strength, double stranded wire, the wooden gatepost is carefully unhinged. After passing through the opening, the wood and barbed wire fencing is secured, and the truck proceeds uneventfully. Over the hill, arriving at Kipp Lake, the view is spectacular. A calm, oval, flat lake of 312 acres with an average depth of 14 feet, Ricky, Phil, Jerry and Zack stop to breathe in the view and choose a spot to unload and begin fishing. As a backdrop, the land of the Rocky Mountains rises into the biggest sky ever.

Big Sky Over Kipp Lake

Spring View of the Rocky Mountains from Phil’s Back Porch

Fall View of the Rocky Mountains from Phil’s Back Porch

Kipp Lake is an FWP Region 4 body of water. The Lake is stocked by the Blackfeet Indian tribe. The preponderance of fish are Eagle Lake Rainbow trout, ranging in size from fingerlings to 24-inch, full-fledged adults. Brown trout and whitefish can be caught. The Lake is land locked and fed by the Kittson Coulee and Willow Creek streams as well as underground water. Scuds, worms, and green shrimp serve as the primary food sources.

https://myfwp.mt.gov/fishMT/waterbody/42989

Depending upon the conditions, Kipp Lake lends itself to dry and wet fly as well as streamer fishing techniques. During the insect hatches, rising trout will gulp down water boatmen and damselflies. Successful nymphing utilizes Rick’s rainbows and Psycho Prince nymphs as well as various scud patterns and Bob’s mohair leeches.

Phil parks the truck along the edge of the lake. Avoiding cow pies and gopher holes, Ricky, Phil, Jerry and Zack jump out and unload the fishing gear. The dogs dash off and roam the waters’ edges. Although the boys relish their sport and bring home their catch, they obey the fly-fishing constraints. For non-tribal fishermen, the daily take-home limits change yearly. A Blackfeet Indian Reservation fishing license is accompanied by rules and regulations and can be purchased locally or on-line. Today, per angler, three total fish with one fish 20 inches or over are allowed to be taken home.

Game Warden Duey Bear Medicine drives to meet Ricky and his friends. Their licenses are open on the dashboard of the truck. Trained at Montana Law Enforcement Academy in Helena, the warden strikes up a conversation with whomever is standing around. Duey is impressed that the boys traveled from the West side and Florida and Rhode Island and Massachusetts to fish his lakes. After a time, the warden checks to be sure licenses are current and then he moves on. At the end of the day, the warden might return to measure the length of their catch and be sure the boys adhered to the trout size limits.

Game Warden Duey Bear Medicine

Ricky, Phil, Jerry and Zack grab their favorite fly rods and flies. Phil dresses in his float tube outfit and sets out onto the lake. He fishes his weighted grey, mop fly while kicking, propelling, and drifting toward his favorite spots. Ricky and Jerry and Zack walk the perimeters of the lake. Each of them finds a place to enter. Slowly, they wade out, waist high and begin casting. Jerry fishes a Bird’s nest; Zack fishes a hairy scud; Ricky fishes a purple mohair, Bob’s leech.

A Crazy Assortment of “Montana Flies”

Rods and reels and line and leader and tippets aside, there are three rules for fly fishing with good form. First, fish far from everything and everyone. You cannot fish within earshot of your partners. Remember, if you can hear your fellow fisherman, so can your fish; and 400 times more acutely. Second, be calm. Fish do not feel as humans; they sense variances. They utilize mechanoreceptors and chemoreceptors, lateral lines and Organs of Weber, swim bladders and pressure indicators to detect “changes in the water.” Although the quality and quantity of the sights and sounds are important, these other characteristics are of greater significance. Third, fish need space. Fish the terrain. Cast a wide arc. Staying in one place and hurling fly-line, relentlessly at the same spot, is a hyper-frustrating kiss of death. Move and move again and move some more. Of course, there is a need to switch out tired or damaged flies; to remove knots from tippets, (whatever the cause); to match hatches; and so on. But it is most important to be quiet, to be calm, to adjust, to shift, to be patient, and to never give up. It is most important to fly fish with good form.

Phil keeps his catch on a stringer, floating in the lake. Ricky and Jerry and Zack immobilize their trout lakeside in a rock reservoir of cold water. As the day draws to a close, the dogs return. Ricky and his friends haul their take-home limits to the truck; measure their lengths; guess at their weights; clean their guts; leave the entrails for the gulls; bag the trout in ice; toss the fish into the cooler; head for home.

A Mess of Rainbow Trout

The trip in the truck to the cabin is peppered with chatter. Whose fish is bigger? What fish was returned to the lake? What fish got away? Which fly worked the best? What was the top spot on the lake? Who limited out? What will we do with the fish? Whose hands and feet froze? Why did we bring these dogs that lounge over everyone? Where should we go tomorrow? And on and on and on.

Arriving at the cabin, Phil unpacks the truck. The dogs jump out. Jerry and Zack set to cleaning the fish. The trout are skinned and filleted. Pin bones are dissected out. They can be smoked, dehydrated, and blended into a powder that makes a nice addition to pasta. The powder can be used to make a trout dip by adding cream cheese and onions and pickles or capers. The pin bones and meat can be prepped for trout jerky. The skin is fried crispy and salted and cut into strips for trout skin Nori rolls. A fish belly (stomach) is opened and if the minnows are intact, they are marinated in soy and fried crispy. The hearts and livers are cooked and fed to the dogs. Fillets and jerkies and patés; fried or canned or smoked; nothing goes to waste.

Dinner is decided. The menu consists of appetizers of smoked sardines and snails; a main course of Terry’s beer-battered fried fish; side dishes of baked potatoes with butter and sour cream; steamed vegetables. As Phil claims French lineage, salad is served after the main course. A dessert of ice cream caps it off. Kokanee and Mexican mezcal are consumed in steady moderation.

Cleaning-up and washing the dishes and preparing for the next day are taken seriously. A decision is made that one game of dice will settle the next course of action. Each player contributes their best flies into a pot. Nymphs, leeches, dry flies, wet flies, freshwater flies, or saltwater flies are chosen. The only restriction is that each fly must be approved for ante by the group. Once the wager is settled, a cut-throat contest ensues. It is played with five regular, white dice. The goal is to be the first person to reach 5,000 or more points. Subsequently, each player has one chance to overtake the 5,000+ point target. Each player rolls one die. The highest number begins the game. The rotation of play is clockwise. Points are scored during one’s roll and they cannot be deducted. However, before scoring points, “breaking the ice” by rolling a one turn score of 500 points or greater is required. Afterwards, the total could be increased, approaching the magic number of 5,000. The game lasts an hour, again punctuated by Kokanee and Mexican mezcal. At the end, the winner claims the pot of flies while the loser attends to the dishwashing and housekeeping chores. The players in the middle complain, but not too vigorously.

The Five Dice

The end of the day inches up. Upon retiring, it is dark and cold. Ricky wanders from the cabin’s living space, into the bathroom, and then slides under the covers. Jerry and Zack wander off into their sleeping bags. Phil disappears into his chambers. The lights are off. The cast iron stove crackles, but not as bright. Today was ruled by good form.

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